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THEATER REVIEW

'Jesus' Kid Brother's' an irreverent romp

October 17, 2003|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

"Tax collectors take all our money/The Romans take all our pride/If we don't die from leprosy/We'll probably be crucified!/ It's easy to be blue/What are we to do?/It's tough to be a Jew/In biblical times."

This benign irreverence begins "Jesus' Kid Brother," now at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre. Brian and Mark Karmelich's musical about the son of God's unsung sibling is a heartfelt Borscht-Belt tune-fest.

Its hero is Larry (David Brouwer, sublime), who covets his messianic half-brother's renown. On dad Joseph's advice, Larry and chum Barabbas (Christopher Dean Briant) begin an anachronistic job search, leading to a forbidden romance between Larry and Mary Pilate (Katherine Von Till), Pontius' favorite daughter. Their trajectory veers into sudden tragedy, only to be regenerated by its logical deus ex machina at the finale's interfaith hootenanny.

Stylistically, "Kid Brother" blends "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Grease," and the cartoons of Jay Ward. The Karmelichs are no Gershwins, but under Brian Murphy's sure musical direction, their pun-filled pop score counts several showstoppers.

What elevates the conceit is the divine inspiration of director Jules Aaron's exceptional assemblage of talent. Brian Paul Mendoza's choreography, Don Gruber's set, J. Kent Inasy's lighting, Philip G. Allen and Leon Rothenberg's sound and Shon LeBlanc's costumes are sly and seamless.

Brouwer's career-launching turn matches up perfectly with Von Till's irresistible heroine. Their electrifying vocals incinerate the house, and they rally a marvelous ensemble.

Standouts include the hilarious Briant and Rana Davis' delicious Destiny Pilate; Jeffrey Landman's Joseph; Amir Talai's and Dana Reynolds' senior Pilates; the groupies of Emily Falvey, Ali Spuck and Beth Crosby; Benjamin Sprunger's posturing centurion; and Todd Stern's and Paul Morente's hambone cross-builders.

Such ebullience overrides the overload of corn, barely. Given their ambitions, the Karmelichs must leaven the groaners with gravitas, especially at the John 13:15 climax, or risk Manhattan crucifixion.

Meanwhile, "Jesus' Kid Brother" is delirious, the most unexpected romp since "Reefer Madness," and an ineluctable cult hit.

*

'Jesus' Kid Brother'

Where: Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.

Ends: Nov. 23

Price: $25-$28

Info: (323) 856-4200, Ext. 29

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

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